The Sky Isn't Falling: Avoiding Accidents Involving Falling Objects

Falling objects such as tools, people and other materials are major work site hazards throughout the United States. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates this hazard causes more than 50,000 injuries and 200 deaths each year. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stringent fall-protection regulations that apply to tools, work materials and people. Unfortunately, violations in this category consistently result in more citations than any other construction industry regulation.

Injuries caused by falling objects can range from minor to serious, from bumps and bruises to concussions and severe head and neck trauma. They can even result in death. The good news is many of these incidents are preventable. 

Preventing objects from falling should be the primary recourse. Secondary measures can include debris nets. Far too often employers rely only on these secondary measures, foregoing actual prevention. 

One of the biggest obstacles to preventing dropped objects is the fact that employers often have fall-protection programs implemented for people but not for tools and equipment. As an easy solution, employers can expand these programs to include drop prevention.

Every company with employees working at height should have an inclusive program. However, at a minimum, OSHA requires tools and materials to be secured when there is a risk of a falling object striking someone. OSHA also requires the use of toe boards, screens, debris nets, catch platforms or canopies to prevent or deflect objects from coming into contact with the ground. In addition, OSHA mandates the use of barricades and warning signs to keep people out of the hazard area.

When working at a height, workers should consider using tethered tools and be familiar with how they work. Any tool heavier than 5 pounds should be tied off to a person.

Many products, such as attachment points, D-rings and wristbands, can be used to prevent tools or other items from falling. Employers should train employees on this equipment. It is also important that workers never modify tools because doing so can create additional dangers.

As a best practice, any employee who works at height should only bring up the tools and equipment necessary for the task at hand. When raising or lowering tools to workers in elevated positions, a line must always be used. There should never be an instance in which the tool is not attached to the worker or line. One should never toss a tool to another worker. Injuries and accidents often occur when tools are raised or lowered improperly. The obvious hazard occurs when objects can hit people below. However, if a worker reaches too far for a tool or tries to catch a dropped tool, they are at risk of falling. 

OSHA recommends that workers always wear a hardhat when work is being done overhead or if the environment calls for it. Workers should also avoid stacking or storing materials in a manner in which they can slide, fall or collapse onto the ground or people below.

In the event that workers are around cranes, hoists, bucket trucks or aerial lifts, it is important to avoid working directly under the boom or moving loads. Anytime this type of equipment is used, it should be inspected prior to operation, and weight/capacity limits should never be exceeded.

Flying objects

Falling objects and dropped tools or equipment are not the only struck-by hazards to be familiar with. Flying objects can also become hazardous when workers are using power tools or machinery or performing tasks that involve pushing, pulling or prying. When workers are operating machines or power tools, which produce hazards of this nature, they should wear safety glasses, goggles or face shields. Tools should always be inspected prior to each use, and all guards must be in place.

A greater awareness of the dangers associated with falling objects should encourage employers and employees to adhere to the appropriate safety practices. Compliance with these practices and ensuring the necessary protections are in place will reduce the number of incidents caused by struck-by hazards.

If you would like more information about this topic, resources are available at

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist
Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. He has significant experience workin...

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